Men and "Rage"

I'd like to lay out1 what I think I've learned about men counseling on "rage":

1) Some clients, in order to get to a certain level of discharge, may have to reach for the next higher level of discharge. This is one of those times when it's handy to know the levels of discharge described in the Fundamentals Manual. I have found that when men think they are discharging "rage," they are usually needing to discharge terror (and often grief) and can sometimes get to those feelings by reaching for the next higher level of discharge (anger).

We are more familiar with this phenomenon in clients who seem to be working on fear but once they hold on tight for a while eventually cry buckets of tears. They are reaching for the next level of discharge (terror) to create a contradiction that allows them to discharge at the level at which they are actually ready to discharge at (grief). This is generally what is happening when men are discharging "rage." We are expressing "rage" to create a contradiction that will allow us to discharge terror and grief.

2) I don't think it is vitally important that the client understands this. It is, however, very important that the counselor understand it.

If I have a client who is "angry" or wants to discharge "rage," I will usually let him try to do this, knowing in my mind that I am giving him a session on fear and grief. If I know this in my mind, I can watch for the moment when his attention shifts from feeling "rageful" to feeling scared. Sometimes he needs to yell a little or hit some pillows, but the hitting and yelling isn't (in my opinion) discharge. Rather it is something like the hard playing we do at men's workshops -- a means to create enough safety for him to discharge. It's as if he is saying, "I'm going to show you exactly how it feels. This is a little test to see if you will hang in there with me2 and not attack, or blame, or leave me. And if you stick around, maybe I'll show you what it feels like underneath the stomping and raging."

As a counselor I encourage the guy to push or scream or hit a pillow, and I try to give him lots of physical contact while I keep my eyes open for when the contradiction has gotten through and he can tell that he's not alone, that someone's on his side, that this lonely battle isn't (at least right now) so lonely. Then the session usually switches to the heavy session on fear or grief that he is ready to have. At that point I often get into even closer physical contact. (When the man is stomping and yelling and holding on tight, he may sweat profusely. Sometimes this is just from the exercise, but I think it is often fear discharging.)

3) If the counselor doesn't understand that the client is looking for a session on fear and grief, then all kinds of trouble can occur. This is when the furniture gets wrecked. I don't recommend it at all. It's better to not even try to have the session and to go do something else -- like play hard.

4) A lot of men's feelings have been funneled into anger. Since many of us were heavily oppressed for crying or looking scared, and less targeted for acting angry and loud, we often bring loud, angry behavior to our sessions. We may need to discharge a bunch of fear before we will be able to cry because we were terrorized when we cried.

5) Outside of sessions it's pretty risky for guys to "show our anger." I've rarely seen it work. Partly this is because people are so confused about us. They've been heavily conditioned to believe that deep-down we are monstrous, raping creatures. When we show them how angry we feel, it seems to confirm this. It also doesn't work because we're confused. We are dramatizing how we were hurt, acting out a literal recording of what was done to us while believing that we are showing our real selves. We're actually looking for a contradiction so we can discharge the hurt, but the best we can do is to show, sometimes literally, how we were hurt. Even experienced counselors get confused when we do this, so trying it with folks who haven't yet had access to discharge is tricky at best. Practicing lines like, "I feel really angry, but I think I'm really scared," might come in handy.

6) The above is a good example of how men get hurt and are then scapegoated for being hurt. Prisons, psychiatric hospitals, unemployment lines, and bars are filled with guys who have been targeted for destruction by society because they are male, and because their discharge process has been messed with, and because everybody has been hurt into believing that deep-down guys are dangerous.

It is profound work to begin recovering our ability to discharge and stay close. Once we've discharged some grief and terror, it should be very exciting to start peeling off our real rage. Here's looking forward to doing it together.

Chris Austill
Somerville, Massachusetts, USA
Reprinted from the RC e-mail discussion list for leaders of men


Last modified: 2017-05-06 23:35:41-07